Johnny Cash Festival rocks Starkville

October 18, 2009 12:07:00 AM

Tim Pratt -


STARKVILLE -- Musician John Francis recalls a time last February when he was working with John Carter Cash, the only son of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, and the pair went to a cabin in the woods to hash out some songs.


Francis was sitting down, plucking absent-mindedly at his guitar strings, when Cash started to sing along.


"No one gets out of here alive," Cash sang.



The lyrics caught Francis off-guard and caused him to pause.


"I was thinking, ''Man, I don''t really know this cat too well,''" Francis said to a round of laughter Saturday at the Johnny Cash Flower Pickin'' Festival. "We were about 30 miles from nothing with no cell phone reception."


The pair began to work on the song, then took a break, but not before Cash said something else that made Francis think long and hard.


"He said something to the effect of, ''The theme we''re working with here reminds me of one of the last things my dad ever said to me,''" Francis recalled Saturday. "He told me what that conversation was like and, as he was outside, I decided, ''That''s really it. I mean, maybe it''s too personal, but I have to put that into the last couple verses of this song."


Francis told the story during the festival''s songwriter''s showcase, which also featured former Johnny Cash band mate Jimmy Tittle. Then Francis played the melodic tune he wrote with John Carter Cash to the dozens of people attending the showcase. Kathy Cash-Tittle, daughter of Johnny Cash and wife of Jimmy Tittle, had to wipe away tears during the performance.


It was part of a long day of music at Rick''s Cafe Americain, which houses Lucky''s Lounge, where the songwriter''s showcase took place.


The culmination of the event took place Saturday night, in between performances on the main stage at Rick''s Cafe by Tittle and Carlene Carter, when the Cash family granted a symbolic pardon to the city of Starkville for arresting Johnny Cash here in 1965. Cash was arrested for public drunkenness, but told police he was only picking flowers.


""He lied, knowing Dad," Kathy Cash-Tittle said. "There was probably a little more to that story."


Flower Pickin'' Festival organizer Robbie Ward based the name of the event on Cash''s statement to police. Ward even gave tours of the Starkville City Jail and showed the cell where Cash was held.


"This is an event that''s very unique to Starkville," Ward said. "Of all the places in the world, this is the only place that can pardon Johnny Cash, and we''re very proud of that. We look forward to this being a part of Starkville and Johnny Cash for a long time."


Starkville authorities the past two years have granted posthumous pardons to the Man in Black for the incident, but this year Ward decided to turn the tables and allow the family to pardon the city.


"We decided we would pardon Starkville for arresting him, because Dad was always innocent of everything," Kathy Cash-Tittle said.


Carlene Carter, daughter of June Carter and her first husband, Carl Smith, said Johnny Cash was always up to something, even until his final days.


"He was mischievous until the day he died," Carter said.


The festival concludes today. For more information, visit